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A snowy owl caught on camera for the four-part Nature of Things series Wild Canada. (Sylvain Bourdages)
A snowy owl caught on camera for the four-part Nature of Things series Wild Canada. (Sylvain Bourdages)

john doyle

Canada is gorgeous and wild, and this TV series has the footage to prove it Add to ...

Well, my dears, hosers, hipsters and all others in this great country, you can argue about the idea that “we are indeed winter.” But you better know that this place we inhabit is big, bold, beautiful. And if you’re in the late-winter doldrums, you are in for a treat.

What kind of treat? Allow me to quote CBC’s boast on the matter: “A truly massive endeavour, the Wild Canada team shot close to 500 hours of footage with almost 20 different cameras to capture the images that comprise the four-part series. Most images were composed in 4K resolution on the same RED Epic cameras used to shoot The Hobbit. Some sequences were shot at 10,000 frames per second to capture exquisite detail in slow motion.” So there.

It’s true that Wild Canada (CBC, 8 p.m. on The Nature of Things) is stunning to watch, gloriously sweeping and at the same time exquisitely detailed. I was unfamiliar with the carry-on of the capelin on the shores of Newfoundland. Now I’ve seen it and it’s terrific entertainment. I did not know that we host “the largest gathering of snakes in the world.” (No, not on the Hill in Ottawa.) Now I’ve seen what happens in Manitoba when red-sided garter snakes wake up from winter hibernation and the most amazing mass-canoodling exhibition unfolds. Out come the males and they’re waiting for the gals. When the gals turn up, the chaps are in a frenzy. It’s a mind-boggling scene.

The first episode tonight is all-encompassing and wall-to-wall beautiful. Much of it is the work of Vancouver-based Jeff and Sue Turner, now becoming legendary for their work on nature documentaries, having contributed to BBC’s Planet Earth and Frozen Planet series. Narrated by David Suzuki, the program gives us the basic goods – the astounding wilderness and wildlife of Canada, the fact that 15,000 years ago Canada was buried under a glacier, and from that point the story of our wildlife begins. And then, of course, the bloody Europeans arrived. An overriding theme is how the presence of humans here has changed and shaped the land and wildlife around us.

Then it’s off to Newfoundland and the amazing natural spectacle of humpback whales arriving there, as they have done for thousands of years. Next, in keeping with the theme, we get the arrival of John Cabot who, with others, saw not only natural beauty, but relished the “unimaginably rich resources of Canada.” And of course, it’s pointed out that the great schools of cod are mostly gone. That’s our fault, right?

From there the movement is west and north. We visit the boreal forest and see wolverines sashaying across the snow, something so rarely captured on film. We see a polar bear emerging from her den after months inside with her newborns. “Nowhere else in the world can you see polar bears playing among trees,” Suzuki says. And play they do – a frolic to melt your heart.

We meet the nocturnal flying squirrel – well, “flying” as in they skim and float between trees. And we see Stehekin River from the air, as Suzuki tells us, “more people have walked on the moon than have paddled the Stehekin River canyon in B.C.”

Well now. Wild Canada is one of those TV events that CBC is mandated to produce and air. Its four parts are a massive undertaking and the series, from what I’ve seen, delivers. This is what television can do – provide an experience that’s visually breathtaking and, at the same time, moving.

Also airing tonight
Twin Life: Sharing Mind and Body (CBC, 7 p.m. on Doc Zone) precedes Wild Canada. And it’s a compelling combo of docs. Made by Vancouver-based Judith Pyke, and a long time in the making, it introduces us to the conjoined Hogan sisters, “the only known twins who doctors suspect can see what the other sees, and feel what the other feels.” As it emerges, their family believes they also taste what the other tastes. They are “craniopagus twins” these seven-year-olds, Tatiana and Krista, and are “the only people in the world known to share a neural bridge between their thalamus – a part of the brain involved in the regulation of consciousness along with sensory and motor signals.” When born they were given a 20-per-cent chance of survival. They survived.
All times ET. Check local listings.
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